Queen of UB: Daphne York
Climbing to the top of the Buffalo drag scene
Matthew Groth pouts into a vanity mirror in his bedroom, admiring his jawline and fixing his already-perfect hair. A 10-foot rack stands next to him, housing over 15 wigs and enough fake jewelry and form-fitting outfits to satisfy a production of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
The clean-shaven Groth has already prepped and moisturized his flawless skin prior to our meeting. He sits around waiting for us to set up, practicing his angles and initiating a shy flirtation with the camera.
“I'm an enigma. What can I say?” Groth laughs, as he begins to put on his makeup.
For the last year and a half, the UB alum has been perfecting Daphne W. York — the “W” stands for w---e — his drag persona. Daphne, a Gen-Z drag queen, emulates the ambition and vanity of a self-assured go-getter, as she plans to rise to the top of the game. But Groth’s journey has taken a lot of work, self-reflection and money. His YouTube channel archives all of his performances, documenting all the bumps in the road — and tumbles on stage — that got him to where he currently is: on his way to the top of Buffalo’s drag scene.
“I've grown so much. I have only been doing [drag] for a year and a half and where I am now is above queens who have been doing it for more years than me,” Groth said.
The makings of a queen
Groth says he doesn’t have many interests outside of drag but a cursory look around his room uncovers a myriad — Khaled Hosseini books, K-POP albums and an obsession with organization and cleanliness, as exhibited by boxes of Clorox wipes and boards filled with schedules.
In the words of his “drag mom,” Veronica Lace, Groth has “much more” to him than he leads on.
He attended UB from 2014-2017, coming in as a biology major with aspirations of being a dentist for entirely aesthetic purposes.
“Because my dentist was hot and I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” Groth said. “I wanted to be ‘Dr. Groth’ like that’s so sexy and I wanted to wear a white coat which is pretty hot.”
He decided to switch to psychology after struggling with physics and organic chemistry in his sophomore year.
“I said ‘f--k this.’ I was taking psychology at the time, so I switched,” Groth said.
He wasn’t particularly drawn to the subject but decided it was the “easiest one” because he just wanted to “get out of school” at that point.
That’s when he started performing in drag — something he never imagined would become his main priority.
“I just feel so me and just so fabulous,” Groth said. “It’s the only thing that I’ve ever done that has felt like it’s supposed to be done.”
By his own admission, Groth wasn’t that great at drag when he first started out. He could barely walk in heels, had to “learn his face” before doing makeup and needed to refine his stage presence.
Groth truly embraced drag in the fall of his senior year, when he began preparing for a drag competition in December.
“I said to myself, ‘We are not going on that stage busted, we are not having a hog body, we are not gonna be able to not walk in heels,’” Groth said.
He spent four months preparing, improving his makeup skills every weekend and wearing heels “obnoxiously” around his apartment to perfect his walk.
The hard work paid off. Groth made it to the finals and came in second place. He began to do drag more regularly and continued to book shows well after graduating.
But he wasn’t satisfied. He felt something was still lacking and decided to change up his drag after a performance he deemed particularly subpar.
“[On] Sept. 21 I did a song with my makeup f----d up. Like it was f----d up,” Groth said. “I was like, ‘I’m f--king changing this shit.’”
He learned to perfect his makeup and worked on his stage presence. He began wearing a corset to cinch his waist for a more feminine form during performances and solidified his trademark dance moves. Groth finally felt “the pieces click.”
“You can’t just storm out in six-inch heels and be the same person,” Groth said. “It changes you.”
Groth advised Spectrum reporters to don a pair of six-inch heels and walk to SU.
“You will be new, brand new. I promise.”
Last fall, Groth came back to UB to perform at a daytime drag show in the Student Union. He deep-throated a dildo to a mashup of “Ho Ho Ho Ho” by Willam and Ariana Grande’s “Santa Tell Me,” to deafening cheers and wild applause.
In an interview after the show, Groth said he was ecstatic to be paid to perform at the school he attended for four years.
“Like, I’m not back here because I have to go to school. I’m back here because you booked me, honey,” Groth said, snapping his fingers.
Groth’s father was present at the show, cheering him on and taking videos, Groth said his parents often drive hundreds of miles just to watch him perform. His parents have always been supportive of his drag, Groth said, “not that their opinion really mattered.”
“I love my parents, but I don't need their approval for anything,” Groth said. “And I never have.”
When Groth first started doing drag, he noticed some of his friends beginning to distance themselves from him. But again, their opinion didn’t really matter either.
“It wasn’t anyone important I guess,” Groth said. “It’s water off a duck’s back … I’m not going to force anyone to be my friend.”
There is no line between Matthew Groth and Daphne York; each bleeds into the other.
Groth said that while many drag queens tend to create drag personas that are “basically the opposite of who they are,” he chose not to. Instead, he wanted Daphne to be an extension of himself, rather than her own character.
“Daphne is something that I did create, but that’s me. Like it’s different than me, but it’s me,” Groth said. “I never wanted Daphne to be a character … I didn’t want to be the opposite of me because I’d be boring as f--k and I’m not doing that.”
Groth’s personality can be self-effacing one moment, and pompous the next, almost comically so. He spends hours in front of the mirror, paying careful attention to imperfections while also admiring his jawline and bone structure.
Groth believes Daphne’s blasé attitude sets her apart.
“I’m a bad b---h. I don’t give a f--k. I do whatever I want, I look pretty,” Groth said. “Nobody here is pretty except me. And Veronica.”
Lace was admittedly “taken aback” by Daphne’s hunger and ambition to make a name for herself in Buffalo’s drag scene, initially finding her to be an “annoying individual.” The annoyance must have bred some degree of intrigue, as Lace decided to become Daphne’s “drag mom,” giving her business and etiquette advice and helping her book more shows.
“Ever since, she’s been crushing it and making a real name for herself and transforming the scene in Buffalo,” Lace said. “She has really turned out such a great style of drag that I could not be more proud of.”
Groth’s performances are exactly what one would expect from a new-age drag queen: naughty and provocative with well-timed beats and spontaneous splits that seem to fit perfectly into the song.
Groth doesn’t practice his performances before going on stage, he mostly just “wings it,” but he invests a lot of money into Daphne’s aesthetic, especially her wigs — which cost about $50 per head.
“I style them, but even s--t like that — you need clips, hairspray, brushes, pens and then the wig stand,” Groth said. “Holy s--t it’s just so expensive. It's ridiculous. Insanity.”
Those aren’t the only drag expenses.
“F--k tights. They’re like $20 a pair and I wear four at a time,” Groth said. “I always bust holes in them when I do my split.”
Groth said his pads, which give his hips shape, cost upwards of $200 and he spends $175 on face makeup alone. The expenses added up, putting Groth in debt, which is ironic, considering Groth's day job as a student loan debt collector.
Although Groth only started performing a year and a half ago, he is already a force to be reckoned with. Troy Meaz, Groth’s friend, would attend Groth’s performances when he was just starting out and had no following.
So Meaz was surprised when he’d go out for lunch with Groth only to have Groth’s fans coming up to greet them.
“His first shows, he had a few friends there to support him, but now people go to watch him,” Meaz said. “He’s people’s favorite drag queen now.”
Meaz believes a big reason for Groth’s success is his use of social media, namely YouTube and Instagram, where Groth posts videos of all his performances and advertises his shows.
Groth said his focus on marketing his events to Buffalo’s LGBTQ community has helped him find early success in his career, something he doesn’t think other Buffalo drag queens do enough.
“Most of my friends and my fans are gay people between like 21 and like 25,” Groth said. “You have to know, those are the people coming to your shows and buying tickets to your [drag] brunch.”
Groth’s coworkers think it’s fascinating that he is a drag queen, but Groff never intended for his drag to “spill over” into his work life.
“I would like to keep things separate, but [it] doesn't work,” Groth laughed. “Because I'm so mouthy. And I want to tell everybody everything.”
And that’s exactly it, Groth’s energy is unable to contain itself. Daphne isn’t just an extension of Groth, she’s an outlet for unapologetic flamboyancy, a manifestation of his ambition.
Daphne York isn’t just looking to put on a good show, she’s young, hungry and the future of Buffalo drag.
Correction: Groth's name was spelled incorrectly in a previous version of this article.
Tanveen Vohra can be reached at Tanveen.Vohra@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @Tanveen_Vohra.